I love Medea. For me, the horror in this story is when you feel her terrible act was not just inevitable but understandable. Even logical. Yet that descent, that terrifying unravelling, is missing in this new production at the Almeida Theatre.
As you'd expect from the Almeida, everything has been shaken up. This Greek tragedy has been revolutionised. Director Rupert Goold and writer Rachel Cusk have thrown out the sandals, the robes and the Argonauts and replaced them with a contemporary setting - a modern Medea for a modern world.
Medea (Kate Fleetwood) is battling to keep her kids away from the TV whilst screaming at her soon-to-be-ex-husband Jason (Justin Salinger) down the phone, Creon (Andy de la Tour) is now a vindictive executive who is pulling Medea's financial lifeline (his daughter is the woman Jason has left Medea for) and the Chorus has become a nasty clique of yummy-mummies.
But for all this breath of fresh air, Medea herself is a reduced version of her powerful self. Here, Medea is a seething, vindictive, angry woman right from the off. Whenever Jason is nearby she instantly flies off the handle and she hasn't a nice word to say to or about anyone.
By depicting her as a one-note shrieking harpy incapable of calm, rational thought, this Medea is diminished. We lose her complications, we lose her humanity. We lose the ability to empathise with her, and we also lose that stone cold terror that comes from the 'there but for the grace of God' feeling when we understand where she's coming from - and where she is heading.
The powerful Medeas are the ones that take you with her. The ones where there is a change in her character, starting off devastated but rational only to unravel to commit the most unspeakable of crimes. For even that crime to become rational. This Medea though lacks that journey. This is a one-note Medea who starts off screaming and shouting and stays that way throughout. The journey isn't evident.
Though I suspect there is an argument for saying, 'well, when a man cheats on you and leaves you, you have every right to be angry.' For sure. But this is Medea not just anybody and, for me, I've always relished the study of Medea that blends the rational and irrational, the anger with the calm, considered motive.
For as long as forever, women have always been pigeon-holed as the shrieking hysterics and men as the sober, rational mind - that there is this clear division in behaviour that can be explained by gender. That is sexism, after all. This Medea plays up to that stereotype. She becomes that cliché and, as a result, her power is diminished.
There is also the unnerving sense that Rachel Cusk has actually written herself into Medea, that there is an element of autobiography in this version which sees Medea, now a writer, hated by the other mothers in town and devastated by the collapse of her marriage.
Though I applaud the risks taken - no story should ever be sacrosanct - and Kate Fleetwood's performance is full-blooded and passionate, for me, too much has been lost here. Medea is a reductive version of her true self. Never is she powerful or in control of herself or the chain of events.
And it's hard to believe that this Medea - the one in front of us - would ever kill her children. The character just didn't justify the crime. I didn't buy it, it wasn't believable in the circumstances being played out in front of us. Unless you were viewing her through the prism that she was always mad and completely unstable. And if that's the case, then this is not a good Medea. Not for me.
Almeida Theatre, London to November 14, 2015
1.Kate Fleetwood in Medea at the Almeida Theatre. Credit Marc Brenner
2.Cast and Kate Fleetwood in Medea at Almeida Theatre. Credit Marc Brenner.
3.Cast of Medea at the Almeida Theatre. Credit Marc Brenner
4.Kate Fleetwood in Medea at the Almeida Theatre. Credit Marc Brenner